Though I love each of the big four silent clowns (Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd, Arbuckle) for different reasons, on different levels, I think Chaplin wins it for me on the personal level. Though I was never as poor as he was growing up, I have very deep working-class roots on both sides of my family, and am really proud to be a member of the proletariat. Honestly, I’ve never had any desire to be part of the bourgeoisie. To me, the bourgeois lifestyle and class represent things that are completely alien to my personality, interests, and background. That’s just not who I am. I’d be quite happy to spend my entire life in a respectably working-class existence, hopefully an upper-working-class existence.
The story of Modern Times resonates so very, very deeply with me because I remember all too well what it was like to grow up without a lot of money, with parents who weren’t always in the greatest or most steady jobs. My parents were on welfare when I was born, and two months later went on unemployment insurance. They didn’t have $10,000 in the bank at one time till I was about fifteen. They didn’t own their own house till I was perhaps 19 or 20. Until then, we’d rented apartments and houses.
I have never, ever forgotten how much it stung when my parents couldn’t afford to buy me a rocking horse, talking doll Cricket, or a beautiful redheaded baby doll I named Apricot. I enjoyed simple toys like marbles and toy cars, but I really would’ve liked those other toys. If I’m ever blessed with kids, I never want them to grow up lacking what I did. Samuel will have a rocking horse, no matter how much money I have to spend.
I don’t like to discuss my political views on this blog, since I want to keep my posts focused on writing and topics related to history (silent and early sound film, people and places I’ve written about, classic rock and pop, antique cars, etc.). I also don’t want to risk alienating readers who may hold much differently, for the same reason I wouldn’t start a very political conversation at the dinner table and just assume everyone present shares my views exactly.
However, this is one of those times when the topic of my political views is pertinent to the discussion. Though I don’t like to put one label on my beliefs, and there’s a very long story behind my political awakening and evolution, the TLDR story is that I’m a very left-wing Democrat, a classical liberal (NOT to be confused with what’s been termed the regressive Left; i.e., SJWs whose minds are so open their brains fell out). I do have a couple of more conservative views, like my support of the death penalty, and I’m more old-fashioned in my personal life, but politically speaking, in most aspects, I’m a Socialist who registered Democrat.
Now that I’ve lived a little longer and am no longer as far Left as I was in my teens and very early twenties, I understand there are many different ways to hold politically. We all need to respect and understand one another. If I’d been born into more money, in a different geographical location, in a different era, as a man, etc., I might very well be much more conservative or middle of the road, or manifest my leftist views in a different way.
Modern Times speaks to me because it’s the story of two exploited people from the underclass, living from hand to mouth, going through a series of menial jobs, not having a secure home, never knowing if they’ll have enough money to get through the week. As the opening image illustrates, they’re the black sheep among the indistinguishable flock mindlessly going along with the crowd. It’s not just a story of man vs. machine or trying to make a living during the Great Depression, but a story for all time. This is the story of the proletariat, a story I’ve been steeped in my entire life.
No matter how hard the Tramp and the Gamin try, it’s just not good enough in the harsh, cruel world they live in. They dream of having a respectable home, a modern kitchen, good food on the table, modern furniture, nice clothes, all the good things in life, but they just can’t grasp that carrot. They don’t enjoy being poor, living this itinerant existence, and being seen as impersonal cogs in a huge machine.
The life of the proletariat in the machine age isn’t all gloom and doom, though. The Tramp and the Gamin determinedly pick back up and try again, instead of letting themselves be relegated to a degraded state. Eventually, they’ll find their big break, and be able to create a happy little home. It might not be the type of home or working life the bourgeoisie or upper-classes aspire to, but to people in their world, it’s a beautiful paradise.